,ciat lOve ra brealtfoot Ott Gin, nhainPolink rose potato? , doesalloettongued Senator el inn& oppovillon with his data . cleft a man go parachute SuroPhlt eacapo o dull party? . I in By Witliern Bremner “14MA and easily moat promising of the Spring ramehl. DALLAS NEWS %Mau of Ow IN* In300470/1 ISTinkitV mumvset 676 meet, $4.95 at all HOUGHTONAUFfliti Hit ‘Em Where They Live When it comes to Texas politics, Billy Lee Brammer wrote the book by Michael May TEXAS POLITICS OFTEN INSPIRES BURSTS OF CURSING, BUT FOR THIS ISSUE WE’VE TAKEN A more deliberative approach. With the campaign in full swing and the legislative session around the corner, this issue focuses on the latest crop of books about Texas politics. Robert Green asks what the latest literature tells us about Davy Crockett and what his myth says about being Texan. Longtime political observer Dave McNeely examines the evolving power of Texas’ governor and House speaker. And authors Debra Monroe and Belinda Acosta write about what happens when politics gets up close and personal. While choosing this wide-ranging selection, I was inspired by a particularly omnivorous account of Texas politics, Billy Lee Brammer’s The Gay Place. The novel \(actually a trilogy of related 1950s among a group of young Democratic legislators held sway by Gov. Arthur Fenstemaker, a character based not so loosely on Lyndon Johnson. The Gay Place is one of the great political novels of the last century. A 1961 New York Times review declared it would “be read a hundred years from now,” yet its longevity has been achieved largely by a cult status that attracts readers obsessed with LBJ, Texas politics or obscure masterpieces. Brammer should have received greater recognition for his talents, but he never seemed to recover from the rave reviews and expectations. He died at 48 of a drug overdose, having lived long enough to see his only novel go out of print. \(The At first glance, The Gay Place may seem archaic: The book is an immersion into an era when Democrats ruled Texas politics, with a title that meant “the happy place” in 1961 but implied something different a few years later. Still, the The Gay Place transcends its setting by submerging its ripped-from-the-headlines plot into intoxicating, intricate prose, with main chartheir own demons, loves and existential concerns than the politics at hand. Brammer was an editor at the Observer in the mid-1950s. He honed his skills here as well as his eye for the absurd. It’s a treat to dig through our dusty, crumbling archives for the work that inspired the novel. One Brammer story “Hit ‘Em Where They Live,” profiles Phil King, “king of the political hucksters,” a PR man in the mold of Karl Rove. Brammer calls King a master of “the glandular approach”he played on fear. In those days, that meant whisper campaigns that painted the opposition as communist. In “Hit ‘Em Where They Live,” Barefoot Sanders, a young, liberal legislator targeted by King, is giving a speech when someone in the audience calls him a commie. Enraged, Sanders challenges the heckler to a fistfight, then and there. Brammer knew a good scene when he saw one. In The Gay Place, the fictional Sen. Neil Christiansen energizes his lackluster campaign by grabbing his red-baiting accuser by the collar and marching him out of an event, “feeling like a dim, flickering comedian’s image stumbling around in slow motion.” Another section of the novel takes place on a movie set in the middle of the desert, with details taken from Brammer’s Observer series about the filming of Giant in Marfa. Brammer wrote about the shell of a Victorian mansion built for exterior shots that WATCH an audio slideshow narrated by Billy Lee Brammer’s daughter, Sidney. Also, read selections from the sequel he never finished, Fustian Days, at txlo.com/sidney BROWSE an index of Brammer’s papers at the Witliff Collection at txlo.com/brammer OPPOSITE PAGE: Billy Lee Brammer in the early 1960s PHOTO COURTESY SIDNEY BRAMMER JULY 23, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 115
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